Philippine Gay Culture: Conclusion*
by J. Neil C. Garcia

In my Introduction to this study, I enumerated the three most important questions a Philippine-based gay theory should address: cultural incongruity, gender oppression, and the class struggle. After undertaking this inquiry into the writings and history of Philippine gay culture in the last thirty years, I can nearly presume that the “answers” to each of these broad concerns should involve the genealogy of sexuality in our history as a colonized people, a revaluation of our present-day concepts of maleness and femaleness, and a theoretical elaboration of the semi-feudal, capitalist class structures which have guaranteed the oppression of homosexuals in terms of occupational pursuit and symbolic relations. In the first part of this work, some of these conclusions were brought to bear on the very history that had countenanced them. Although short and woefully incomplete, I therefore believe this study has adequately, if provisionally, answered the most basic requirements of a tentative gay theory in the Philippines.

There are still other insights this study has yielded, and they have to do with: 1) how the demonization of same-sexual activity is as old as the Catholic Church’s history in the islands, 2) how inversion can be an instance of containment, and 3) what some of the special problems of gay historiography in a neocolonial context are.

First, this study has made it clear to me that the damning attitude of the Catholic Church in the Philippines toward homosexuality may have initially been conflated with (xenophobic) issues of race. In the archival component of this work, I came across not a few accounts by the Spanish colonial administration that blamed sodomy on the largely bachelor Chinese community just outside the walled city. This early in the history of the Christianization of our peoples, it therefore became apparent that demonization based on and compounded by racial conflicts had played and would continue to play a major part in shaping our country’s dominant religious attitude in regard to sodomitic sex.

John Leddy Phelan, in The Hispanization of the Philippines, very much doubts the accuracy of the Spanish accounts (by Morga, Ribadeneira, Benavides, Santibañez, and Alcina) that all lay the blame for the prevalence of sodomy in the archipelago on the Sangleys. According to Phelan,

these Spanish observers were vituperative Sinophobes who hated the Chinese as intensely as they were dependent upon them for certain economic services . Sinophobia may be unconsciously responsible for inventing the charge that the Chinese introduced sodomy to the Filipinos. [1]

Phelan concedes, however, that “the incidence of homosexuality increased among the Filipinos as a result of the coming of the Chinese.” While this may have been the case—and the de facto economic ascendancy of the Chinese may have indeed been the underlying reason for this Sinophobia—Phelan nonetheless fails to see the distinction between sodomy and homosexual activity. As I have earlier attempted to clarify in the section on precolonial gender-crossing, sodomy as a general term for “unnatural acts” did not preclude the many heterosexual acts and “methods” which for the friars were not within the realm of the “ordinary.” Hence, even this concession of Phelan’s may yet be misleading, since those many different acts that might be called sodomitic could only have been around so much earlier than the Spanish conquest. In fact, all the other accounts on the existence of penis pins, licentiousness and lack of chastity among the pre-Conquista indios and indias seem to indicate this to have been the caseNeedless to say, it is almost impossible to prove that the influx of the Chinese merchants into the Philippines caused the many practices of sodomy to become any more or less widespread than they had already been.

Aside from the economic, another reason behind the Spanish sexual xenophobia about the Sangleyes-though I myself haven’t really attempted to explain it here-may also be linked to the self-confessed fear of many friars that their efforts at converting the natives were constantly being undermined by the Chinese. Not a few Spanish missionaries pointed to the Chinese as the culprits behind the backsliding in faith of natives who “returned to their old ways” every time the Spanish frayles-who were supposed to guarantee their salvation at all cost-weren’t looking. [2]

Second, containment theory may be most logically invoked in relation to inversion, the dominant discourse of homosexuality in our society at the present time. In many ways, I have precisely invoked it, as when, for instance, I insisted toward the conclusion of the first part of this study, on the Coming Out of gays from loob tolabas. I have offered the binary of loob/labas (“inside/outside”) as the central node around which Tagalog-Filipino gender and sexuality are obsessively constructed, and hence offered the cultural reading that the depth model for identity is still operative-or we may even hazard to say, perhaps has for a very long time been operative—in our local cultures, subordinate or otherwise. Nonetheless, it may also be said that psychosexual inversion, once selfconsciously understood, is itself a radical gesture, for it arguably denaturalizes gender and restores its otherwise transcendental meaning into the social, rendering it contingent rather than necessary. What is lacking in the case of the local  homosexuals is the transgressive reinscription of Philippine gay culture’s various acts of inversion—for instance, female impersonation and cross-dressing—and the necessary predisposing attitude to be able to accomplish this is one of irony. Finally, one of the primary admonishings in this work is that local homosexuals—transvestic or not—must exhibit and nurture more irony toward and about themselves and their actions; and that, consequently, gay intellectuals also need to perceive and to appreciate these exercises in irony, and to textualize these in their writings or whatever other discursive project they choose to engage in.

In this respect I find myself taking issue with Vicente Rafael’s remark in his introductory essay to a recently published “cultural studies” book on Filipino cultures. In “Writing Outside: On the Question of Location,” Rafael says that as things stand, the bakla is already fully self-ironic as an identity:

The (Western) notion of the gay identity (is) tied . . . to a generalized anxiety about stable ontologies . . . (while) the Filipino conception of the bakla by stressing the performative aspects of gender differences,parodies as it reinscribes the gap between the masculine and the feminine. [3] (Italics mine).

The anxiety of Western civilization toward its many different genders— not just masculine and feminine—finds its fecund expression in the varieties of camp (butch/femme) and transvestisms (macho, queer, transvestophilic, transgenderist, etc.) which, over the last century, have come to be institutionalized as legitimate self-expressions within the gay and lesbian cultures of the United States, Europe and Australia, This anxiety is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian metaphysical tradition which, until recently, was a rather inexorable force in the Western subject’s life. On the other hand, this study has argued that the Philippines has its own dualist tradition in respect of sexual identity, and although it would seem that the effeminate baklaand the mannish tomboy attest to the fluidity of gender concepts and roles in our culture, at the level of desire they merely reinforce the babae and the lalake, whose pale reflections they are. Rafael cannot be farther from the truth when he ascribes tokabaklaan the parodic and self-reflexive character which it doesn’t (yet) possess.

As things stand, the dominant conception of the bakla identity strictly confines thebakla to an agonistic effeminacy (a poor copy of femininity). In fact, the masculinebakla is simply unthinkable. He therefore must be a closet case, or a double-dealing fraud (silahis). Suffice it to say, then, that at the core of the social construction of thebakla is “coreness” itself. As a recent ethnography reiterates, the bakla is a “man with a woman’s heart” who, like a real woman, deeply desires a real man to be happy. [4] (And this ethnography may be found in the very same book that Rafael edited). This inversion, though apparently camp on the outside, is actually underwritten by a very serious script of depth-obsessed, “psychospiritual”—which is to say, loob-generated-authenticity.

Third, and slightly related to the first, the search for a precolonial “sexual utopia” (which is to say, a simultaneously pre-Christian and naturally perverse society) which apparently nearly existed in the Philippines—at least as suggested in the early “scandalized” chronicles of Pigafetta, Loarca, Morga, et al.—should have to take cognizance of the “other archive” that more or less talks about how sodomy—a word which referred to a broad catalogue of “unnatural crimes” (crimes against nature), including same-sexual activity— was hardly to be observed among the natives in early colonial Philippines. An example of this would be this passage taken from Marcelo de Ribadeneira’s account:

By nature they are not very lewd, nor did they ever commit the nefarious sin, like other pagans, and if somebody fell into it, they tied him to a stake and stoned him to death. [5]

The supposedly rare instances of the “nefarious sin” (sodomy) to be observed among the Philippine early colonial indios in this passage are confounded, if not downright contradicted, by other chronicles and histories that mention sodomy to be a problem among the converts. Hence its obsessiveness to be evidenced among all the confession manuals in the different regional languages which were published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nonetheless, Ribadeneira’s account is not atypical, and an archivist venture into early colonial sexual practices may not so easily disregard it.

My own attitude toward the sodomy narratives of the early colonial period of the Philippines is more or less one of meticulous caution and care, inasmuch as all such accounts were necessarily overseen and underwritten by imperialist and rather orthodox Christian interests. Nonetheless, a romantic picture of a “gay-friendly,” pre-Spanish Philippines is not entirely tenable. Thus, a gay historiographer has no choice but to address the more relevant and urgent concerns of current-day homosexual oppression, rather than continually harken back to a perfect past which cannot be textualized without some form of significant qualification. (Certainly, the first qualification here should be that at this time, homosexuality, let alone gayness, had not been invented yet).

It might also be germane to this specific discussion if we contextualized the various accounts on the “unnatural sin” written by early Spanish chroniclers in the Philippines within the Renaissance discourse of sodomy. This project should prove particularly insightful in relation to representations of the Indians of the “New World” (America) who, in the early colonial period, came to be known as being “all sodomites.”

Jonathan Goldberg, in his book Sodometries, discusses the unstoppable production of sodomitic Indians to be found in the early colonial Spanish texts coming from the New World after 1516, the year in which the earliest account of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s encounter with Panama’s Queraqua Indians first appeared in Europe in Pietro Martire d’Angheira’s De Orbo Novo. [6] This story details the killing of 600 Indian warriors of the Queraqua tribe, after which Balboa fed to his dogs 40 other Panamanians, whom he accused of being sodomites. This story of a sodomitic New World immediately became engraved in the European mind, as proven by subsequent sweeping pronouncements of sodomy-ridden nations and tribes populating the continent of America, from the relations of Hernan Cortes (1519), Tomas Ortiz (1525), Gonzalo de Oviedo (1526), Bernal Diaz (1526) and Cabeza de Vaca (1527), and as literalized by a dramatic engraving of the Balboa narrative in the 1594 edition of Thomas DeBry’s America. In fact, it was in the face of this hysterical condemnation of the entire continent—whose indigenous inhabitants had come to be perceived in Europe as being utterly and irredeemably sodomitic—that Bartolome de Las Casas came to the defense of the Indians by 1542. Las Casas, writing in his Brevisima Relacion, debunked the European myth that all Indians were cannibals and practiced “the nefarious sin.” (Despite such a brave defense, Goldberg reminds us that Las Casas still cannot be completely praised by students of colonialist history, inasmuch as he maintained that sodomy and “cannibalism,” just in case they were indeed a widespread practice among any Indian people, should be enough grounds to exterminate their race).

The desire to exculpate the indios of the Philippines from this same intransigently occidental charge of a wildly exuberant sodomitic nature must have been part of the production of nearly all these early Spanish texts—for instance, in the passage cited above, Ribadeneira’s—that all declared the Islas de Filipinas free of the “unnatural crime,” or at least laid the blame for its existence in the archipelago on the corrupting influence of the Sangleyes, and not on a pre-given proclivity to commit it on the part of the natives themselves. This must have been the case since the Spanish colonial administration in the Philippines was constantly under Royal pressure to justify its presence in the archipelago, which proved very difficult to govern on account of its overwhelming distance from Europe. [7] One way to do this was to declare its resident Indians sufficiently worthy of evangelization, or “noble” enough to be redeemed from their “ignorance” and “barbarity” by the Spanish “liberators.” Hence, by proclaiming sodomy an extraneous reality in the lives of the Philippine indios, the Spanish frayles and gobernador-generales in effect declared that their moral weakness could easily be overcome by a sustained religious guidance, catechism and civil tutelage coming from the Spanish friars and administrators. This task was, despite its appearance, a possible one to accomplish, insofar as it was really an outside force—an alien, Sangley culture-that was the culprit in the introduction and proliferation of this specific evil among them. 

The Chinese came very handy indeed for the purpose of carrying out this particularly villainous “role,” insofar as sodomy in Renaissance Europe itself wasn’t so much a performance of certain kinds of forbidden (unprocreative and/or extraconjugal) acts between men and men, women and women, men and women, or women, men and animals, as the accusation of the performance of these acts. And history shows that such an accusation is always most easily leveled against social groups that threaten patriarchal power the most: heretics, spies, traitors, enemies of the Church, etc. (And as Goldberg would seem to gesture, in light of recent events in the United States, homosexual people in general—who, by virtue of a U.S. Supreme court ruling onBowers vs. Hardwick, have effectively become the new heretics of the modern world).

The irony here is that while Renaissance sodomy laws were used exclusively as a weapon against these potentially hostile classes of non-white, non-Christian peoples, hegemonic male-male bonds that formed the core of European society at this time existed under the benevolent cloak of the family, and were facilitated by the exchange of women between households. Under the aegises of “friendship” and “patronage,” servants and students, teachers and pupils, kings and minions, and (perhaps even) queens and ladies, were sharing the same erotically charged beds without fear of corrupting the spirit of alliance or marriage, the institution sodomy laws were meant to protect and perpetuate from the very start. Sodomy, indeed, was “utterly confused” as a category (as Foucault so exasperatedly—and in Goldberg’s book, axiomatically—declares), during the sexual regimes that came before the advent of modern sexuality in the mid-nineteenth century, to the degree that at these times it wasn’t possible to self-identify as a sodomite at all: sodomy named sexual acts only in certain stigmatizing contexts. These racial, religious, economic and gender stigmatizations functioned in assuring the preservation of patriarchal power against its many “imagined” enemies. Hence, during the Renaissance, sodomy was an “empty category,” into which the powerless were thrust by those who dictated the scope and signification of its use. [8] Certainly, however, the “namers” of this crime never imagined it possible to place themselves under its demonizing ensign even though, strictly speaking, they were already committing the acts that defined it.

In seventeenth-century Philippines it was the Chinese who represented the most visible (economic) enemy of the Spanish colonial administration, and hence they became the logical target of the charge of “unnatural sin.” This charge, in fact, was just as unmotivated as all the accusations the conquistadores made against the American Indians at the beginning of the Conquista. None of the Spaniards who pronounced the Indians sodomites actually saw sodomy being committed by these peoples. Instead, they read sodomy into the Indians of the New World—and in the case of the Philippines, the Chinese merchants living in the Parian just outside the walled city-because they were really reading themselves (and consequently, their own desires) into the context of these otherwise undecipherable realities. Goldberg’s intriguing deconstruction of the American case makes the point clear that the naked bodies of the Indian males were the only things the Spaniards saw; and that sodomy was read into these bodies on account of their many perforations which were filled to overflowing with gold ornaments. The naked, hole-ridden and goldenly bedecked male bodies of the Indians were the very same bodies the Spaniards secretly desired to divest of their treasures and convert into slaves who could be-and indeed were-exchanged for money and merchandise in Europe. (On a related point, Goldberg says the charge of cannibalism made by the Spanish against the Caribs was simply a projection of their very own rapacity and belief in the Eucharist).

For finally, the Spanish conquerors of the New World felt they could legitimately call these Indians sodomites by virtue of an unspoken identification with them: underwriting their ethnographies was the belief in a universal “Logos of Man.” Goldberg notes that this universalist re/presentation of the concrete and historically specific reality of the native peoples of the New World can clearly be seen in the fictionalized attribution of Moorish dress among the Mexicans. The Spaniards, fresh from their liberation from the Moorish Empire in the decisive Battle of Granada in 1492, not so strangely “discovered” Moors among the peoples of the “New Spain”! And since the Mexicans were somewhat Moorish too, their conquest would only serve as a deja-vu, or a kind of “repeat performance,” for the conquistadores. In the Philippines, the projects of conversion and conquest were similarly made possible only after the Spaniards could define the natives of the islands as indios who, despite their external and local differences from each other, were ultimately “human” like them, too. (It shouldn’t be strange, therefore, that all the different indigenous peoples that were found in the many colonies of Spain at this time all came to be conceptualized by the Spanish colonizers under the monolithic rubric of the “Indian.”) This discourse was not a unified one, in any case, as alongside this declaration of Humanist sameness was foisted a political teleology of civilization, in which the indiooccupied the bottom rung of a proverbial ladder of cultural development, at whose apex unfurled the banner of the European conqueror himself.

*   *   *

Because of this study’s “findings” on the predominance of inversion as the pattern of homosexuality in current-day Philippines, certain speculations about the present local gender system seemed to be called for. A return to archival renditions of precolonial and early colonial cross-dressing and cross-genderist behavior was therefore provided in this study in response to this intriguing nexus. The male babaylan, a religious/political figure from the prehispanic past, exhibited gender transitivity by virtue of the babaylan’s fundamentally “female” function. Although what is inarguable is the male babaylan’s transgenderal attributes, the assertion about his sexuality can only be made provisionally. In fact, such a connection may at best be largely hinted at, and not in fact proven. Nonetheless, the paucity of actual references to sexual practice among the early colonial, “womanish” babaylan must only be taken in the context of how, until the sixties, even the bakla himself was represented as though he had no sexual nature.

In other words, it is likely that the same if not a stronger Christianity-ordained “denial” of sexuality operated in the friar-mediated, early colonial babaylanchronicles. In the “permissive” atmosphere of the seventies, however, the Coming Out of the bakla signalized the appearance of his “sexuality”: a substrate knowledge which had been disallowed from showing itself previously. This “disallowance”—which, by the way, may have been part of the disavowal of sexuality within Philippine society at large—may also be seen in the way homosexuality does not even get vaguely mentioned in the proceedings on Problems of Counseling in Philippine Colleges and Universities, which were published in 1961. [9]

The “silence” of local psychological institutions in the early sixties about homosexuality and homosexual counseling seems strange, given that globally, the problems of adolescent homosexuals never fail to make it in the agenda of any conference on juvenile mental health (for only obvious reasons). By the rest of the 1960s, as well as the early seventies, however, this situation had palpably changed, and homosexuality was made to belong under the aegis of psychological science, as may be proven by the existence of positivist works on it which were written around this time. (A partial listing of the sundry academic studies on homosexuality in the Philippines is included in the last section of this book). The consequence of this is the renewed and intensified medical psychopathologization of the bakla as inversion’s homosexual: a man whose psychological being does not coincide with his anatomic sex. Only this time, his sexuality has become the central defining feature of his by now “psychosexually inverted” identity.

That the native cultures of the Philippines never really became obsessed with the sexual object choices of people per se, but rather with their functions in the community as gendered persons, can only suggest that a more egalitarian (or at least, more sex-positive) gender system obtained during much earlier—perhaps, much better—times. Should it therefore be desirable for gay culture’s beginning student—such as I mainly am in this book—to insist on the homosexuality of the bakla, and not simply let things be?

About this admittedly “queer” dilemma I have very little to say, except that perhaps it is not up to me or anybody else to decide on whether or not the bakla should be considered this or that. The choice doubtless has already been made for us: the discourse of Western, binarized sexuality is already with us, and the bakla is now a homosexual. (This does not, however, mean that the boundaries of these two concepts have all of a sudden become perfectly contiguous). More than this, thebakla, even without becoming homosexual, is an identity already leaving much more to be desired, considering that effeminacy in macho societies such as ours is quite already a burden as it is. To this bit of easy sense may be added the much earlier, non-sexual yet still undesirable denotation of the word bakla as “fearful” and “cowardly.” Nonetheless, the realization that, for a long time even before theConquista, there have probably been various forms of gender-crossings among the native cultures of the Philippines, brings now to mind a documentary film on thekathoey, Thailand’s equivalent identity to the bakla, made by a German gay filmmaker, Jurgen Bruning. [10]

In Bruning’s film, several kathoey impersonators are interviewed, and just as with thebakla, we realize that their oppression stems from their being symbolically situated as “second-class women.” (The similarity among the “inversion” patterns of homosexuality within southeast Asia and its neighboring island groups may be traced, hypothetically, to the Kulturkreis to which such cultures may be shown to collectively belong). [11] In the Philippines, this is also to be seen in the Third Sex rhetoric which swards and gays had themselves subscribed to and reproduced in the seventies, and which thenceforth cast them as “handicapped, fake women.” The more interesting insight in this documentary, however, comes from the way Bruning the filmmaker frames the film from his viewpoint, and in the last scene, the camera rises above Bangkok, airplane-borne. (This scene, I assured him, should be a sufficient ideological caveat/”marker” that would insulate him from the charge of exploiting the “Third World”; actually not entirely so). Somewhere in the middle of the film, a voice-over says that Thailand does not want (or need) the Western versions of sex and sexuality which in the last ten years have continually been imposed on its people. Bruning’s value judgment is telling: Can it be that a Western gay who knows the homophobic repercussions of homosexuality is warning those cultures which do not have it yet to never ever do?

Unlike Thailand, the Philippines can hardly be salvaged anymore from Western cultural encroachments such as those concerning homosexuality. Four centuries of colonization have simply been too much for any culture to resist such implantations. A Thai homosexual intellectual who gets interviewed in the movie is sure that until a little over a decade ago, the Thais had no word for a man who wanted to have sex with another man as a man, and not as a kathoey. And this word is “gay,” precisely. The same medicalization is attached to the label, and with the AIDS pandemic already getting graver and graver in Bangkok and elsewhere, Thai gays just may suffer the same stigma Western gays have suffered. This may be why several gay organizations are already being formed there; likewise, this may be why coming out as homosexuals has also become the most critical issue for Thai gays, who are not too keen on being identified with the “second-class” kathoey, but are not too sure if staying inside the closet is all that desirable either. In fact, based on the letters fromkathoey to “Uncle Go”-a popular advice columnist in Bangkok, whose columns Peter Jackson analyzes in his book Male Homosexuality in Thailand: An Interpretation of Contemporary Thai Sources [12] -the kathoey are considered “fair game” and gullible by most Thai males. This contemporary, negative attitude toward the kathoey feeds, I feel, on the newly implanted medicalized discourse of homosexuality, the increasing masculinization of Thai society, and perhaps also on a more indigenous bias against all effeminate men in general. In fact, not a few kathoeysuffer from police harassment and rape by men whose socially and culturally sanctioned desire for a warm sexual cavity finds itself most conveniently fulfilled in thekathoey who, Jackson concludes, “together with female prostitutes, probably represent one of the most vulnerable sections of Thai society.”

There are other parallels to be drawn between homosexuality in Thailand and the Philippines. In his book, Jackson explains that unlike the kathoey, the traditional Thai ideal of the “complete man” is one who is masculine in appearance and demeanor, as well as insertive in his sexual practice; moreover, he is a husband-father. In the context of traditional Thai society, a man does not suffer humiliation or degradation just by virtue of engaging in sex with a kathoey, because outside the marital level of sexual relations, the “complete man” is allowed two other kinds of relationships: with a concubine and with a prostitute. It is into these categories that kathoey invariably fall.

At once, here, the difference between the Philippine bakla/bayot and the Thaikathoey becomes obvious, despite their offhand sameness: while both display the same characteristic effeminacy and sexual passivity (receptivity) in relation to the “complete/real man,” the former is not popularly perceived as a prostitute or a concubine, unlike the latter. Likewise, Jackson’s conclusion that it is, in terms of actual sexual activity, the bisexual male who occupies the apex of the sexual structure of Thai life may not be very easy to make here. The homo/hetero distinction operates more ineluctably in Philippine sexual life than in Thai culture simply by virtue of our longer cultural detente with, and domination by, the West. Jackson’s book seems to imply that actual physical bisexuality is rather openly accepted in traditional Thai society, and this can scarcely be imagined true in the case of the Filipino macho male. The bisexual act with which the Philippine “real man” is (un)likely to be charged, has itself already been rationalized by the culture beforehand through various “arguments,” foremost of which is the economic. Call boys and those local men in general who agree to play the (largely) insertive role in sexual encounters with thebakla/bayot invariably are paid for it; thus, they are really “heterosexual” despite their actions. This arrangement is itself the opposite of what Jackson observes in Thailand, where it is the kathoey who gets to be paid (or oftentimes, is forced) for the sexual service. Hence, it can be said that the acknowledgment of the existence of their homosexual—or at least bisexual— desire, is easier for the Thai than for the Filipino males, to make. The kathoey need not bear the burden of being the only one who actively desires sex with another male; this symbolic and economic burden, by contrast, is the bakla/bayot’s sole onus.

The Catholic component in Philippine sexual life ultimately distinguishes it from the model of traditional Thai sexuality which is overdetermined, in religious terms at least, by the less doctrinally homophobic Theravada Buddhism. In the first place, it is easy to see that Jackson had his entire work cut out for him, inasmuch as the textualization of homosexual behavior—and later on, of gay consciousness—is not all that difficult to make in Thailand. Jackson merely had to collect the many available texts and interpret them. In fact, “Uncle Go’s” advice column, and even its many different clones, have been appearing with nary a hitch in Bangkok tabloids and dailies for the past two decades. A similar case cannot be found in the Philippines. Nor is it true that the same kind of glib easiness and volubility about the topic of sex can be expected of Filipinos (even of those who are living in the big cities, like Manila). This is simply because the religious suppression of sexuality indeed has been, as a whole, successful in the more official spaces of our culture. Likewise, there is much paranoia to be found in the attitudes of Filipinos in general to homosexuality. Even the peculiarly Western debates on gays in the military, for instance, have been entertained by the media in recent years.

Nonetheless, the important similarity between Thailand and the Philippines as far as the homosexual question is concerned, lies in the fact that in both cultures, it is inversion and/or effeminacy that is definitive of exclusive homosexuality. Consequently, both cultures look down on femininity and feminine sexuality as inferior to masculinity and the sexuality of the “real/ complete man.” Therefore,  we can probably conclude that both cultures are masculinist and anti-woman, in the end.

The many possible regional and Western connections among understandings of sexuality/gender and the local concepts of bakla/bayot/binabae/etc. are therefore rather also important for this project. Between the two it is admittedly the Western “encounter” which has riveted my singular attention. Tie-ups between the gay liberation movements in Europe and the United States and Philippine gay culture, though not explicitly made in this book, are nevertheless apparent in the discourse of ‘Third Sex,” and of gay liberation itself, which became ascendant in the West, and by osmotic neocolonialism elsewhere after the Stonewall riots in New York, in 1969.

These tie-ups are mutually constituted and “enjoyed,” however. In fact, homosexuality in the Philippines continues to function as Western gay culture’s alterity to the precise degree that Western scholars continue to objectify the sexual lives of Filipinos in the 1990s. [13] The most enduring theme of Western(ized) academic and popular literatures on the subject of homosexuality in the country is that it is “tolerated” therein. Whence does this blatantly misguided opinion emanate if not those Western commentators on the Philippine bakla/bayot of the last thirty years, who have precisely denominated and hence constructed these indigenous identities as “homosexual”? And indeed, by constructing the non-Western subjectivities bakla/bayot into homosexuals these colonial architects of contemporary Philippine society, have unwittingly reproduced the homophobia that always follows at the heels of the very idea of homosexuality. But despite the brute fact that it is the West itself that has introduced—and thus, produced—homosexuality in the Philippines, there continues to be staunch and unequivocal denial coming from Western sociologists that the bakla/bayot are comparably as oppressed as the Western gay in any way. The reason for this may very well be that the presence of an exoticizing contrast remains necessary in imagining the Western Self and reconstituting its identity at the exotic Other’s expense. Obviously, in this case, the Philippine bakla/bayot have, over the last three decades, enjoyed a truly rare privilege of becoming the object of such perfervid and weighty imaginings.

For instance, an article on the Philippine homosexual situation that appears in the two-volume Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), refuses to entertain the slightest notion that homosexuality’s tolerance by Filipinos is not really what it appears, or that tolerance should not even be tolerated by those homosexuals who are extravagantly given it. Its author, Frederick Whitam, conducted a sociological study of the bayot of Cebu City sometime in the 1970s. (In that study, he arrived at basically the same conclusion of how Filipino homosexuals have it easy compared to Western gays). And according to this article, “the Philippines enjoys a reputation as one of the contemporary societies most tolerant of homosexuality,” chiefly for the following reasons:

1. Philippine penal laws and other statutes don’t even mention homosexuality. 
2. Filipinos generally hold a benevolent attitude toward homosexuals, to be seen in their allowance of the bakla/bayot to participate as cultural performers in big social events. 
3. Transvestic homosexuals are praised during fashion shows and beauty pageants, which normally function as family entertainment showcases. 
4. Homosexual characters in Philippine media (movies and television) elicit “claps and shouts of approval from the many children in the audience.” [14]

Whitam offers these four statements as “proof” that to be a homosexual in the Philippines isn’t such a bad thing. To the extent that this book has attempted to reconstruct a “history from within” Philippine gay culture, it has also sought to invalidate Whitam’s “proof.” It has done this by calling into question its mode of production (Read: Whitam’s strictly positivist ethnography does not even care to take cognizance of the crisis of representation); and by offering the textual productions of bakla/bayot as testimonies that provide a more nuanced (if truer) source of knowledge of how Filipino gay life has been lived by Filipino gays themselves.

The list Whitam draws of how Filipinos show their tolerance of homosexuality is admittedly not just his own. A slew of social science researchers and journalists, over the past decades, have said exactly the same things. Nonetheless, none of the items in this list makes the distinction between the indigenous concepts that refer to effeminate males (bakla/bayot) and the Western concept of the homosexual person. Obviously, this list should only forgo such cross-cultural complication, seeing as how it appears in an article that is included in an empirical compendium of global same-sexual behavior—an “Encyclopedia of  Homosexuality” no less. But Whitam’s sad refusal to examine more closely the symbolic world of the bakia/bayot whom he simplistically takes to be homosexuals causes him to vitally misunderstand these identities. By taking them out of the context in which the concept of effeminate gender and sexuality signifies, he fails to appreciate the nuances of oppression to which the effeminate male is subjected in Philippine society. For instance, the cultural reality being described in the fourth item in his list, cannot be fully understood in its presently truncated form. Those particular gay, mass-media characters that evoke “claps and shouts of approval” do so because they portray ridiculously uproarious roles whose entertainment value singularly derives from their gender anomaly, as well as other equally obtrusive things: neither man nor woman; coward; unreal; bakla,precisely. (That Whitam fails to make that most commonsensical connection between this Tagalog-Filipino pejorative and the many Western terms of gay insult—faggot, queer, fairy, sissy, etc.—is beyond me). It is with these universally familiar, painful cultural scripts in mind that the childish “shouts” Whitam heard in the movie house ought to be appreciated.

These native identities are already homosexualized in the current time— this seems increasingly true, despite the fact that as portrayed in media the screaming and swishing onus of their difference all but completely overshadows the sexual dimension of their personhoods. But even as purely gendered categories,bakla/bayot already leave more to be desired. Effeminophobic rage hardly needs to be legislated hereabout, inasmuch as it finds its gleeful, everyday target in the effeminate (“non-male”) bakla, whose real social purpose may well be to remind Filipino children what they should never be. (Alas, not everything native is good!) But to the degree that these identities possess a homosexual orientation—and to the degree that their homosexual orientation has come to be definitive of their innermost and most authentic sense of self—then we can safely say that their already oppressible gender arguably becomes vested with an extra layer of oppression: sexuality. The irony is that Whitam makes no bones about including the obviously non-Western personhoods of the bakla/bayot in a global survey of homosexuals, and yet denies the possibility that as homosexuals these very persons can only be oppressed just by the simple fact that they possess non-normative sexual desires.

Likewise, the same kind of woeful, Western linkage may be evidenced in the importation of homophobic evangelism during the last few years of the seventies. Slightly more flagrant and shameless than Whitam about his agenda of “Othering,” American Reverend Eddie Karnes put out a local edition of his book Tears in the Morning in 1979, under the auspices of former Vice-President Fernando Lopez and then First Lady Imelda Marcos, whom he boldly likens in the frontispiece to the infamous American beauty queen and gay-bashing bigot, Anita Bryant. [15] Actually, Karnes hardly really wrote his book, for even a cursory look reveals that it is merely an unapologetic and prejudiced compilation of news clippings, which supposedly show the “horrors” of urban gay life in the U.S. Says Karnes in the Introduction—which, apart from the Conclusion, is the only original portion in the entire thing—

My research has led me to believe that the gay world is a jungle… the  glue that holds the gays together is cosmetic… it is penis-oriented. It is a movement that worships at the altar of the erect penis … an animalistic, lustful sexual world that drains the beauty, youth, and morals from its converts, and damns the teachings of parents, the Church, the Bible, and of God.

The book and its message of hate hardly made a splash locally, if only because the very enterprise of homophobic persecution could not be accommodated by the native culture nor accepted into the native sexual sensibility, given the epistemological disparity inherent in the bakla/homosexual dynamic. Just as the different Western models of homosexuality have not all become interwoven into the strands of Philippine sexual life, so too have the various kinds of paranoia which Western civilization has always attached to same-sexual behavior not become completely ingrained in and integral to our own culturality. Because sexuality is not as fully organized as a field of knowledge in the Philippines as it is and to a certain extent has always been in the West—and therefore because sexuality remains largely untheorized and unconscious among the masses of the Filipino people—homophobic anxiety between the West and our own societies remain clearly disjunct. Hence, as I hope to have shown in this study, the quality of homosexual oppression between them must only be different, too.

Nonetheless, the fact such a violently vitriolic anti-gay book was put out during Martial Law (and at the behest of La Imelda herself!) should clarify the agonistic situation of gay culture at the same time that all other progressive movements in the country were being militaristically silenced. However, this does not detract from the other fact that, ironically enough, the Marcosian  seventies also bore witness to the increasing sexualization of the bakla (and hence, to the dissemination and fecundation of gay culture, in general).

As for part two, however, it may be true that these early gay writers may properly and tentatively be called “radical humanists,” but this is only because they were significantly determined (and comparably anguished) by the Christian narratives of identity within which they wrote their fictions. Also, the metaphysical underpinnings in their works may also be said to derive from more native ideologies, too, and this connection is something that I have to explore better in my examination of the dominant discourse of interiority or loob as a powerful local idiom for metaphysical depth and plenitude. Humanist transgressions, nevertheless, are finally susceptible of dogmatism and displacements of conflict within the very community they wish to alleviate. It should not be strange, therefore, that by attempting to transcend the conflict of his own homosexuality, Tony Perez ends up denigrating the bakla.Actually, not just him, but also Severino Montano, whose novel does not even make mention of the bakla, even when it is supposed to be a homosexual novel set in post-War Philippines.

It is this study’s conclusion that the bakla is the only kind of (male) homosexual Philippine culture has, relatively speaking, known; and therefore also the only (male) homosexual Philippine culture has discriminated against and/or dismissed as sick, deviant and sinful—as bakla, precisely. Any local text proclaiming itself gay or homosexual cannot help but relate itself to and to situate itself within kabaklaan,hence. Orlando Nadres, of the three early gay writers in this study, has not only addressed this vital concern, but also concretized in the most truthful and sincerest of terms the conflict between two “kinds” of homosexuals of Philippine popular culture: the covert and the overt. Nadres recasts this classification into “in” and “out” (in seventies’ swardspeak, this binary would translate into  buko and wa buko), and passes the judgment that the former has to come out or else his life is meaningless, and the latter has to accept his similarity with the former or else he is deluded. Of the three texts I examined I am convinced that it is Nadres’ play that offers the most rewarding and insightful commentary on Philippine gay culture, and this may well have been true ever since it was first staged in Fort Santiago two decades ago. As I attempted to illustrate in my critique, the play’s ineffable beauty is that, in and through it, Nadres celebrates kabaklaan in the staunch and irrepressible character of the lowly but indomitable beautician, Julie.

The movement away from “one’s own”-the romantic dalliance with American and international “sensibilities” which Perez and Montano undertake-may hence be seen as one of several typical strategies to be observed in early gay writing. Actually, my own life may likewise be said to have been propelled into the same trajectory: I have always maintained that there is something very attractive about appropriating and/or flirting with “foreign” objects and ideas, when one’s own cannot give one these very same things-when all it can give/call one are words like bakla and others too terrible to mention. Although I have generally become influenced by my readings on the gay movements in the U.S. and Europe, the true impetus for this research has come from my own experiences as a bakla in my life’s own “lived ground” (which is to say, my own here and now). I must admit that such experiences have not all been unpleasant, and they only serve to remind me that the impetus to liberation emerges from the liminal zone between one’s own home culture and what exists outside it. While I can confidently say that my insistence on the political expediency of humanist radical politics is rooted in a belief in subjective struggle for the ends of social transformation-and in the possibility of transgression even when faced with so much institutional and even progressive challenge and persecution on the local front-I am likewise aware of the fact that this faith only draws its energy from the very same cultural forces which have necessitated and spurred my movement away from my own culture in the first place.

Nonetheless, all such textual moves can only become logical when seen against the backdrop of Philippine gay culture within the last thirty years or so. It is culture itself, as it has been constructed and as it constructs, that is largely responsible for, and is the result of, the production of such reactions.

*   *   *

In the first part of this study I aimed to accomplish two basic things:

1. Using both academic and popular texts, I wished to trace, catalogue and analyze the different expressions (self- and ascribed) of the male homosexual identity in Philippine metropolitan gay culture within the period of the last three decades (1960s-1990s). 
2. My other aim was to account for, wielding this knowledge, the absence of a gay liberation movement in the country.

The issue of Coming Out relates to both these aims in rather intimate and significant ways. Any history of Philippine gay culture is at most “apparent history” to the degree that only those male homosexuals who have come out and become markedlybakla are represented in it. The class conflict between homosexuals who are “out” and “in” the closet has in the main been responsible for the failure, if not the absence, of a truly formed and visible gay movement. This conflict, nonetheless, is not specific to Philippine gay culture alone. In Stephan Likosky’s book, Coming Out: International Gay and Lesbian Writings, an article [16]  that comes straight out of the beleaguered gay communities in Guadalajara, Mexico, serves to remind us just how similar situations across the world can be, especially as they pertain to the oppressive effects of heteronormativity (of course, Mexico is a country whose Latin, macho culture, for historical reasons primarily, the Philippines logically shares to a more or less salient degree). What this article essentially talks about are the difficulties of maintaining a gay organization in a cultural milieu in which effeminate and/or cross-dressing homosexuals may be observed to harbor the same hatred toward macho-looking gays that the local swards and gays of the seventies and up to now have had for the silahis, closet queens, and Men who have Sex with Men, or MSM (and as always, the same holds true the other way around). Taken together, these identities may well be the most popular self-expressed male homosexual selves that have come to constitute Philippine gay culture in the last three decades. Nonetheless, the same obstacle to the formation of a gay liberation movement in the Philippines likewise obtains in Mexico, an obstacle compounded of the crisis of coming out, and of transvestophobia.

Actually, reading the other articles in Likosky’s book has shown me that there are many other parallels among the qualities of “homosexual’ oppression and the response from the “homosexuals” all over the world. The most telling sameness, for me, has been the “reformist” attitude of the Third World “gay” communities in relation to the “gay movement,” most clearly seen in the pleas for acceptance and tolerance, the call for integration into the mainstream heterosexual society, and the concern with questions on the gay identity. The reason for this may be the fact that in much of the Third World, machismo intersects with an ironic allowance for homosexuality among the macho males themselves. For instance, macho males in the Philippines and in Latin America are not totally averse to the idea of having sexual relations with other males so long as they are the activo (or insertive) partner, and so long as some semblance of the intrinsically oppressive heterosexual norm (of there being a man and a woman in the whole affair) is maintained. Hence, in this specific context, the definition of a specific gay identity is made problematic because according to this schema of sexual identities, macho males do not understand themselves to be homosexual/gay (both in the Western sense), even when they clearly engage in same-sexual erotic acts. [17]

Another article mentions the importance of naming—that is, “coding”— homosexuals, and among the countries in Latin America, the introduction of the word “gay” in the early seventies was the first step toward the establishment of various community-based organizations which would push for the protection of the rights of males whose love objects were other males, whether or not they perceived themselves to be gay. Nonetheless, it is understandable why the gays who belong to such a culture ask for acceptance. They do so simply because, all their lives, they have been brought up to regard themselves as subordinates to the macho males, to whom they have been culturally—and erotically— subordinated for so long. Hence, such gays—most especially the Philippine bakla-think and believe with all their “female hearts” (in our case, pusong-babae) that they are “fake women” who need the love of “real men” to be truly happy.

However, the gay liberation movements in Europe, America and Australia have opted for a more “revolutionary” perspective on the issue of the homosexual identity, primarily by problematizing the concept of sexuality in general. Rather than just calling for liberation for homosexuals, the gay movements in Germany, Australia, Great Britain, Italy, and the U.S. have sounded the call for the liberation of all sexualities and sexual desires, and therefore, of all persons who, at one time in their lives or another, possess such desires. The force of this “rallying cry” taps into the Freudian thesis of polymorphism and bisexuality, which assumes that sexuality and sexual identity are far from assured essences, and are merely narrative accomplishments. From the male child’s plenitude of desires and outlets of desire, the individual subject of post-industrialist capitalism undergoes, by patriarchal interpellation, a repressive sublimation into genital heterosexuality at the service of the heterosexual kinship system, thereby becoming effectively “a man.” According to this theory of sexualities, compulsory genital heterosexuality may still be modified or critically exhausted as a category by such sexuality-sensitive groups as the gay and lesbian movements. For revolutionary thinkers such as the Australian gay liberationist Dennis Altman, then, the repression of sexualities is simply a strategy to get civilization—and this particularly patriarchal and capitalist civilization—underway. Within this theoretical framework, the movement away from the discourse of homo- and heterosexuality, and into the discourse of polymorphous perversity (now to be seen as good), is tantamount to the liberation of all human potentiality. [18] This philosophy of unbridled sexuality arguably was crushed, however, by the AIDS pandemic, so the gay liberation movement remains, globally speaking, clearly linked to a question of rights and civil liberties, rather than to some metaphysical transcendence into an ultimate freedom to become bisexually perverse. (As some have argued in the past: this revolution can never be entirely tenable, as such would spell, following the heteronormative Freudian equation, the end of civilization itself).[19]

For this particular project, then, I have made use of both the “reformist” and the “revolutionary” views with regard to homosexuality and gay culture.

In the first part of this study, I have called these perspectives “minoritizing” and “universalizing” respectively (after Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick). Sedgwick’s difference from other thinkers of this debate—between “essentializing” sexuality as an identity, and “constructing” it as merely acts, potentialities and bonds—is that she has found it possible to keep both perspectives and not end up schizoid in the end. For as has become apparent in this study, there exists an identifiable homosexual minority whose agitations for reformist—which is to say, civil— changes that will somehow benefit it, whose pleas for acceptance/tolerance, must not be dismissed right away with a cursory swish of the theoretical hand. The ghettoization of gays, though not observably serious in the Philippines, is nonetheless being accomplished in the specification of gay occupations, and in the institutionalization of the heteronormatively defined and “scripted” gay bar, to serve the sexual needs of this minority: a legitimated, social release of tension. More specifically, the markedlybakla homosexuals in our culture are not allowed to get away with their homosexuality without first being subjected to a certain “institutional treatment” which would de-radicalize their various acts of transgression. They have to become subordinated to the heterosexual male by thinking of themselves as symbolically and actually less than he is—in fact, as not even male to begin with.

On the other hand, it is in regard to this specific construction of the bakla that the revolutionary/universalizing/constructivist perspective should prove most useful, by basically calling into question the very distinction—too pat and suspicious to begin with—between the “homosexual” bakla and his “heterosexual” macho partner.

While I was carrying out this study, this perspective paved the way for the unmasking of the dominance of psychosexual inversion as the model for homosexuality in Philippine gay culture, which may well be called—for the sake of locally mediated heuristics—a discourse of loob. According to this model of Tagalog-Filipino selfhood—a model that obviously valorizes psychospiritual depth (loob)- one’s sexuality and identity are based on one’s interior subjectivity, and not on one’s external actions (which are merely panlabas). Hence, genital males who engage in sexual activities with other genital males can maintain the sexual self-understanding that they remain “really male” (whose sexual love objects are females) because theirloob is “attached” to neither the same-sexual act nor their same-sexual partners. Likewise, hence, otherwise genital males can harbor the self-understanding that they are females, simply because their loob tells them so. This discourse is essentialist (and heteronormatively so), and the way to neutralize it is by moving from metaphysical depth to playful surface: a discourse of constructed and (de)constructible bodies, or labas, for which the issue of homosexuality necessarily applies once two physically male bodies are involved in the sexual act. I find this to be the more desirable view to take, as it avoids the needless complications of heterosexual macho fantasy and liberates the discussion out of desire’s metaphysical (and heterosexual) teleology that has oppressed Filipino gays for the longest time.

Nadres’ reformist play proves particularly instructive of the hostility between the two kinds of homosexuals who ostensibly make up Philippine gay culture: the covert and the overt homosexual. The essentialist views taken by all the three early gay writers here may be taken on their own terms, and not necessarily dismissed as incorrect, although perhaps it would be safe to conclude, in a manner of speaking, that such views are needfully incomplete. In this study, I have needed to engage Nadres’ distinction between gay culture’s dual identities. Following Sedgwick’s lead inEpistemology of the Closet, I have employed the markers “gender-transitive” to mean the overtly effeminate and transvestic gays, and “gender-intransitive” to signify the covert, or masculine-looking and -acting homosexuals. Although such a dichotomy in the first place does not lay claim to anything political, Nadres thinks otherwise, and renders it as a political division precisely when it is the question of Coming Out which overarches everything. The unwillingness of Fidel, the covert gay, to admit his homosexuality to Efren, the boy he has been supporting and secretly in love with, is about his fear of becoming branded as a homosexual, well as his fear of being dismissed as bakla by the polite society to which all his life he had been trained to pander, and which in this play Efren represents. Julie emerges in the play triumphantly and unhypocritically homosexual, although it’s also true that Nadres does not mince words about what Julie’s own tragic dilemma is: he is “unreal” (not a real woman) in his kabaklaan, just as Fidel is “not real” (which is to say, not truthful) to himself and others by staying closeted, too. Therein lie their common tragedies, but Nadres holds out hope that a friendship strong enough will bind them together to a common purpose and goal.

Recently, I have been rethinking the binary of covert/overt (and its more politically incorrect version, “respectable/vulgar”), and have attempted to reconsider the terms of each. Perhaps the qualifier selectively for the first term and completely for the second will recast these poles in a continuum, and relocate the entire structure under a newer, less harsh and not-so-absolute light. A consequence of this would be: there may no longer be a clear distinction between gays who are inside the closet or covert, and outside it or overt, for both kinds of homosexuals are actually already overt, or “out,” only one is selectively so, while the other is more completely out.

I am convinced that Nadres, if he were alive today, would not complain about this “revisionist” vision of his politics of male homosexual identity, except that in his play, Fidel really is “in,” and Julie “out.” To be the former is to deny one’s sexual orientation and/or preference, primarily; to be the latter is to both scream and cross-dress, and to be homosexual, first and foremost. In other words, between the two, it is the beautician who is out because his occupation, his appearance, and his very being are, right from the outset, an immediate and socially recognizable affirmation of his sexuality, of his sexual desire for other males. Fidel, on the other hand, by not identifying with Julie’s sexual inversion, still needs to affirm his sexuality; and also, he still needs to accept that he and Julie are not very different from each other, after all. For Fidel, the second epiphany seems harder to undergo, because it is only to himself and in the proper place and time that he has already explored his sexuality (by turning to palpably prostituted sex). On the other hand, to identify with and as Julie would be tantamount to forsaking all his years of painstaking labors to become “respectable.” A class dynamic is undoubtedly at work here.

Finally, the current-day homosexual situation may be shown to partake of a different ethos from the one Montano, Nadres, Perez and other gays of their generation operated in, if not subscribed to. The proof of this is the already precarious existence, in the local milieu, of certain degrees of what Barry D. Adam in his book,The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement, enumerates as the characteristics of a “modern gay world”:

1) Homosexual relations have been able to escape the structure of the dominant heterosexual kinship system: 2) Exclusive homosexuality, now possible for both partners, has become an alternative path to conventional family forms. 3) Same-sex bonds have developed new forms without being structured around particular age or gender categories. 4) People have come to discover each other and form large-scale social networks not only because of already existing social relationships but also because of homosexual interests. 5) Homosexuality has come to be a social formation unto itself, characterized by self-awareness and group identity. [20]

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that these characteristics of “gay modernity” are goals nearer and more attainable now than in the time of Montano, Nadres and Perez, for these are “goals” which have somehow already been selectively attained by certain Filipinos within their own exclusive communities. (One such community is implicitly the subject of the book on homosexuality by Margarita Go-Singco Holmes, A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines [21] ). In other words, none of them may be true yet for the general bakla/homosexual population in the country. Nonetheless, it is possible that, nowadays, among members of the urban upper middle class, some of these realities already obtain (for example, nowadays, for many Filipinos, there is probably less pressure to marry when one is a man, especially a gay man, for the simple reason that marriage and family may already have become less desirable economically speaking).

An alternative model for homosexual love—one between two consenting, fully self-possessed gay men—is also already available for the members of the current generation, as exemplified by the MSM. But the identity of the MSM is not a gay identity, because it isn’t “out” or politically homosexual to begin with; at most it is anti-bakla, if not AIDS-specific. Of all five elements of the modern gay world, therefore, it is the fifth, which concerns gay identity politics, solidarity and community-formation, that is most crucial and, sadly, the least to be observed in the Philippines at the present time. What is easily probable, in any case, is that the coming decades will see more and more alternative expressions for homosexuality and the homosexual identity—including perhaps the blurring of sex/gender categories which the advent of transsexual surgical operations (performed surreptitiously in a Manila hospital for nearly a decade now) signalizes. [22] At least these forms of psychic polyvalencies and sexual self-fashionings are to be hoped for, if the largely metaphysical—i.e., transcendental and loob-specific-oppression by heterosexually constituted desire of Philippine gays should at last and finally be cast off.


Between the time I “finished” writing this book (c. 1993) and the time it was being considered for publication (c. 1995), so many things have happened- both to the locus of discursive formations that is my “self,” and the culture in which this very self signifies and performs (or rather, is signified precisely because it performs).

The most famous “sexual space” in the city hitherto granted Filipino gays-the gay bars-seems to have gotten preciously scarce, if not increasingly dangerous to go to. I am not too sure if this recent precariousness can be attributed to a shifting sexual consciousness among local gays (who may well have found other venues in which to strut their stuff and/or pursue their sexuality), or to the government’s sustained efforts to make prostitution less and less visible. For one, Manila mayor Alfredo Lim has been unrelenting in his drive to shut down the last remaining bars (both gay and straight) in his city by characteristically starving them through periodic raids. Lim first received his mandate as a “moral crusader extraordinaire” during the incumbency of former President Corazon Aquino, whose reputation as a morally upright person seems unshakably firm, the scandalous behavior of her youngest-and thespically disastrous-daughter notwithstanding. In the late eighties, Aquino ordered General Lim (who was then the police thief of Manila) to clean up the red light district in Malate, in a token-making effort to clean up the country’s image as one of the leading flesh markets in Asia. [23]

While all this “cleaning up” was arguably oblivious of distinctions of sexual orientation, the government seemed to have taken a special liking to gays when, around the same time as the Malate raids, constabulary agents cracked down on the homosexual pedophiles who had set up shop in the resort town of Pagsanjan in the province of Laguna. The demonization of homosexuality not strangely became the upshot of Aquino’s xenophobic, anti-pedophile campaigns, and the Catholic Church and its consociate civic groups lost no time in condemning gays wholesale. In Pagsanjan, for instance, an organization was formed to protect the town’s children from pedophiles; and yet, this organization’s real agenda was clearly embodied by its name: Alyansa Laban sa Kalalakihang Bakla. (Alliance Against Gay Males). [24]

As of the last count, only a handful of gay bars remain open in metropolitan Manila. (For obvious reasons, I am not even going to attempt to name them). Nonetheless, according to a wonderfully disguised oral history of cruising as it has been rehearsed by metropolitan gays in the last two decades, the phenomenon of the gay bar (numbering around three dozen in the 1970s) has given way to the relatively recent phenomenon of gay massage parlors, which have continued to proliferate in the city ever since the first such facility opened around twenty years ago. [25] The same account mentions a similar constriction happening to what used to be the alfresco “social” clubs for gays, namely the public parks. At the same time, however, shopping malls may have become these parks’ heirs apparent. The Mehan Gardens and the golf course in front of the Senate building in Manila have been lighted up and fenced off; Ugarte field in Makati has been left desolate. But to the degree that shopping malls may be said to have currently taken over the function of public parks, the very heavy cruising that used to take place in these parks has simply moved indoors. Likewise, the movie houses inside these malls serve as veritable poaching areas for quick and uncomplicated sex among willing participants, thereby extending the reach of gay sexual culture beyond what were its identifiable locales. To illustrate: Galaxy and Ideal no longer exist (and Delta has recently been converted into the leading television network’s studio); but the supermalls all boast dozens of dark, airconditioned venues that each offer pretty much the same anonymous amenities.

Obviously, all these changes indicate a kind of stasis. Despite the fact that the metropolis is changing its increasingly congested face, the things that have always happened in it continue to happen in Ramos’ mega-city nightmare that is Philippines 2000. For male homosexuals, however, these changes may well mean a profound shift in terms of the (in)visibility of the things that they usually do. Thus, at the same time that a liberal sexual climate seems to be augured by the ever-expanding Third World metropole, this very same liberalism may mean more persecution for those individuals and groups who practice suddenly visible, oppressible sexualities and/or profess suddenly visible, oppressible sexual identities. In fact, thus far, it is the nineties which have arguably been the most sexualized decade in the history of an increasingly sexological Philippines: blame it on the Church, AIDS, feminism, or gay discourse itself! In talking about sex for whatever purpose it may serve (diverse and rather important ones), these interest groups have contributed to transforming the collective fantasies and desire structures of inhabitants of the metropolitan centers of the country; and such phantasmatics actually comprise what has come to be denominated, in our century, as “sexuality.” Thus, while the dominance of the traditional models of sexual relations in our cultures persists (for instance, that one between the bakla and the “real man”), it does so amidst an ever-thickening traffic and confluence of new and proliferative sexualities that are engendered by, as well as engender, the cityscape’s restlessly transforming erotic body.

In the meantime, the traditional enemies abide, and have notably prospered in their malignancy. For one, the Philippine Catholic Church, in its medievalism and obsequious attitude toward the Vatican’s whimsies, continues to clutch its bigotries close to its magnanimous chest, and to trample on the rights of Filipino sexual minorities, most especially on the right of women over their own bodies and desires. This it shamelessly did in 1994, in the months that led up to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo, Egypt. Homosexuality didn’t escape the tirades of the Manila archbishop (and his toadies in frock) either. In typical demonizing fashion, the Catholic clergy and its puppets in the laity lumped homosexuality together with all the ignominious vices that ostensibly pose a threat to the sacrosanct heterosexual family, in order to prove the point that the government policies on population were (mistakenly) trying to mimic the lifestyle of the decadent West, and thus were nothing less than devil-inspired. In a supreme example of unselfconsciousness, the Philippine Catholic Church forgot that it, too, was a Western importation. By blaming all the social ills of this mendicant country on the very civilization that manufactured the impossible office of the infallible Pope, it undermined its very own position. (This retardataire position of the country’s religious and political right didn’t go unremarked, however. In September 1994, the month of the ICPD, a collective statement of gay and lesbian groups in the Philippines was issued to media in order to articulate their unequivocal disgust at the way the Church had meddled in and muddled the entire proceedings).

Another religious twist which the gay culture of metropolitan Manila has taken—and will likely continue to take—in the 1990s has to do with the desire certain homosexual individuals in the country are beginning to have for a specifically gay spirituality. Certainly, such a desire has been met in equal measure with fundamentalist zeal and animosity. The establishment of a Manila chapter of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a gay Christian church founded by a former Pentecostal priest, Troy Perry, in Los Angeles in 1968, signalizes the beginning of gay evangelism in a country that hitherto had no need for such. Having close to 300 extension churches worldwide, the MCC’s most popular service—for which it has produced so many detractors, from both within gay circles and without—is the solemnizing of same-sex partnerships (also called gay and lesbian “marriages”). In the Philippines, MCC has extended this very service through its pastor, ex-Catholic priest Fr. Richard Mickley. [26] Meantime, as MCC was starting its operations in its little chapel in Malate, another American Christian fellowship was being founded in Manila. Bagong Pag-asa (“Renewed Hope”), it is called: the goal of this Christian ministry is to deprogram homosexual men and women, and, according to its brochure, “to bring wholeness and restoration to the entire individual, including his or her sexuality.” An extension of American-based Exodus International, Bagong Pag-asa was originally contemplated in 1990, but only after “many speaking engagements and seminars” was it deemed necessary and proper to begin this ministry in Manila sometime in 1993. (One wonders whether MCC and Exodus International are not actually trying to outdo each other in their mission to re-colonize the Third World).

But cultural effervescence has not been the monopoly of moral crusadings alone. Gay and lesbian artistry has seen a quickening as well: gay plays and books and journalistic works have been appearing with appreciable regularity in the metropolis. It’s almost like the seventies again: one-man shows, exhibits, theatrical presentations, television programs, parades, movies, and the invariably brilliant write-ups on these by politicized gay or gay-sympathetic critics. Although this time, such affairs tend to happen in the mainstream and are denominated—politically—as gay and lesbian precisely. This politicization of gay life in the Philippines, though lacking the organization and logistics that more properly exist within a unified social movement, indicates a continuing sexualization of Filipinos that has begun to translate itself into selfconscious identity-formation among those who find themselves at a visible disadvantage precisely because of such sexualization’s inequities and demonizing effects. Class-inflected gay and lesbian communities are aborning in certain sections of the metropolitan population, usually in the guise of AIDS and Women’s Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). As communities with their own personnel and wherewithal, they attempt to answer their constituents’ needs for moral support and social interaction. One such answer has taken the form of local community newsletters that circulate in certain gay- or lesbian-identified areas of the metropolis, such as: Gay Men’s Exchange, being put out by gay urban professionals from the posh financial center of Makati City; Break Out, a newsletter of the lesbian organization Can’t Live in the Closet; and Switchboard, a journal of the NGO, Women Supporting Women Committee. Gay and lesbian organizings have not yet happened together or alongside each other under any single aegis, in any case.

Philippine academe, on the other hand, remains eerily unresponsive to all these developments: an eerie thing indeed granting that, as everyone knows, teaching is basically a feminine/effeminate profession, according to Philippine culture itself and even to its caretaker, the Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports. A seeming response may be seen in the opening of the first gay literature course in the University of the Philippines, in which I have had a semi-reluctant role to play. The first time the course was offered at the UP in June 1994, both local and international press thought it novel. After a blitz of media reports on the course, there I was, caught in a corner frenetically giving interviews to newspaper reporters and television anchorpersons. Certainly, this novelty tended to the facetious for certain media practitioners. In the report that came out in the country’s most popular daily broadsheet, an accompanying caricature had me fully made up, coiffed and in fishnet stockings teaching to a bunch of ineffectual, limpwristed students. [27] This didn’t get my goat all that much. Being generally languid of body and mind has preserved me from much damage all throughout my sudden career as a gay academic-cum-advocate It did, however, serve as an embarassingly unmistakable reminder of the difficult task of raising the issue of homosexuality and kabaklaan out of the humorized morass in which it has languished for the last half-century (or using an essentializing optic, perhaps even much earlier than that). This course is the necessary token, I’ve always known that. Nonetheless, that it existed at all will be empirically inarguable to the gay scholar of the future. Moreover, the full impact of its rhetorical weight has yet to be ascertained. (That this very same impact was felt by me—at least—provides a certain measure of comfort at the same time that I find it most unfortunate and myself most pathetic that I had to even think of it in these terms).

Perhaps the most politically recognizable gay act that has thus far occurred in the current decade is the Gay Pride March that happened in June 1994 on the grounds of the Quezon Memorial Circle (an apt and meaningful venue, as any local gay will know). Organized by the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PRO-GAY Philippines), the march was the first politically motivated and received gay march in the Philippines; an ecumenical religious service officiated by MCC pastor Fr. Mickley was followed by the reading of a gay manifesto that contained PRO-GAY’s demands concerning sexual and gender equality. [28] In terms of the number of actual participants, the PRO-GAY rally may have indeed been negligible. But it certainly may have achieved much more on the level of symbolic investment. Because it happened at all, the march might now be commemorated every year thereafter, with perhaps more and more coming to attend it while the mythology of gay liberation continues to gather momentum and to convert more and more Filipino believers. (This is a wishful thought I beg sufferance for in my readers).

On the other hand, the political trajectory of that rally as well as of PRO- GAY itself betokens a reformist minority movement that will call for the eventual bestowal of gay rights. [29] As has been the caution of this study, minority politics, though necessary to those gays who indubitably need it, just might end up counterproductive for all gays in the end, for it reduces what is really a very complex reality—”homosexuality”—to a simple issue of cross-identification and rights. (Thus, it preserves the hierarchical dualism of hetero- and homosexuality, a dualism no longer borne out by what most contemporary people actually do and feel, on the level of their everyday eroticism). In sociopolitical terms, the call for gay rights invites less the idea of a revolution in the sexual logic of our society than a legitimated release of social tension: a token gay literature course here, a token gay ghetto there. This caution achieves a particularly salient cogency once we see how unviable is the very idea of “minorities” within the present-day structurations of Philippine governance. Unlike in the West, where multiculturalism reigns supreme as a social theory (and in many ways, a regnant practice), the Philippines has not been specifically well-known for taking care of its many ethnic minorities. By virtue of Manila’s intranational imperialism over the rest of the country, the rights of the country’s many tribal communities over their ancestral lands, natural resources, etc., continue to be violated with gleeful impunity—all in the name of national progress. Given the pertinacious exploitativeness of such dispensation, can the bakla minority really expect to fare any better than the increasingly evanescent T’boli? Obviously, therefore, the project of liberation will have to be negotiated by gays using both essentialist (reformist) and constructionist (revolutionary) tacks. While gays may militate for their rights as members of a sexual minority, they must never for a moment forget that the parameters of this very minority are immensely permeable to the outside (to the point that perhaps, an inside/outside distinction hardly seems to be there at all).

It is scarcely doubted by anyone vaguely conscious of the reality of a gay culture in the Philippines that the lack of an organized and concerted effort by gays (the lack of a gay movement in other words) follows only from the economic depression of the Philippines as a whole. The same person may even point to the history of the homosexual movement in the West and say that the increasing power of gays and lesbians to assert their rights has always had a direct relationship to the heightened economic power of the First World’s middle classes after the Second World War. This sort of analysis has not been the persuasion of this book. To think the same thing of Philippine gay culture is not to be saying much about the meanings with which its actors and participants negotiate themselves, as well as to not be saying anything new at all. I hope that despite this study’s deliberate inability to link up the de rigeurconcerns of political economy to the economy of homo/sexuality (an economy of fantasies, to be sure), certain equally vital tasks have been accomplished.

One task is simple enough: remembrance. This book can and most likely will be received in many ways—a lot of which may not be germane to its writer’s original intentions. That it answers to the need for memorializing (and memorizing) I don’t think anyone for whom this book matters will disagree (or want to disagree). Another goal is just as undisguised: liberation. And given the invigorated state of homophobic persecution in an increasingly sexually self-aware Philippines—to be evidenced in such improbable forms as a Vice-President’s condemnation of gays and lesbians in showbusiness, [30] and the no-gay policy currently being enacted in certain tertiary schools in Metro Manila without any word coming from the Education Department [31] – then this book’s many extravagant gestures toward an end to the slavish acceptance of injustice just might prove more than just a shedding of all these copious, academic tears.


* This is the concluding chapter of J. Neil C. Garcia’s Philippine Gay Culture: The Last Thirty Years, Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM(Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996), 319-344.

[1] John Leddy Phelan, The Hispanization of the Philippines: Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses (1565-1700) (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959), 186-87.

[2] A sample account of the Spanish friar’s distrust of the Sangleyesmay be found in the testimony of Fray Juan Ibañez, Regent of the College of the University of Santo Tomas, before the ecclesiastical Commission headed by the Archbishop of Manila, in 1688: “He (the Reverend Father Fray Ibañez) started preaching to all and except for the Sangleyes and the Chinese, others asked for his forgiveness… he does not trust these Chinese people since he has heard that those who have repented before have gone back to their old ways, though they do it with much secrecy and fright.”

This translation of Domingo de Perea’s account on the Spanish colonial church’s efforts to curb the recurrence of “demonic idolatry” among the newly converted indios and Chinese, may be found under the file, In San Gabriel Extra, in the library of the Institute for Women’s Studies, Malate, Manila.

[3] Vicente L. Rafael, “Writing Outside: On the Question of Location,”Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures ed. Vicente L. Rafael (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1995), xxiii.

[4] Fenella Cannell, ‘The Power of Appearances: Beauty, Mimicry and Transformation in Bicol,” Rafael, 241.

[5] Marcelo de Ribadeneira, History of the Islands of the Philippine Archipelago and the Kingdoms of Great China, Tartary, Cochinchina, Malaca, Shun, Cambodge and Japan (Barcelona 1601), ed. Legisma, Mardid (1947), 50. This quotation is an unpublished translation by William Henry Scott.

[6] Jonathan Goldberg, “Discovering America,” Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford University Press, 1992), 179-222.

[7] Benedict Anderson, “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and 
Dreams,” Rafael, 5.

[8] Goldberg cites Alan Bray’s New Historicist work on the Renaissance concepts of male-male friendship in explaining the “other side” of the discourse of sodomy. See Goldberg, 14-18.

[9] Proceedings from the Second National Conference on Student Mental Health, Problems of Counselling in Philippine Colleges and Universities (Quezon City: Philippine Mental Health Association, 1961).

[10] Jurgen Bruning’s film about the Philippine and Thai gay (sub)cultures is really a trilogy entitled Maybe I Can Give You Sex? I had the chance to view it early August of 1993, and after the preview the audience got the opportunity to talk about the film with Bruning. Apparently, he had shown the film before an American audience, and they had criticized him for cashing in on and exoticizing the “Third World.” I had to tell him that there really shouldn’t be any problem about the film’s ideological point of view, since it was clearly articulated (and confessed) in the film. But still, the production of knowledge of whatever kind about countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, when its consumption is meant for the West, is and can only be fraught with political implications.

An interesting point of discussion—not so much between Bruning and the local gays but among the local gays themselves—was about the preponderance of so-called filmic and literary “alternative gay representations” that all use as either background or actual focus the homosexual (prostituted) subculture. In other words, even the sections in Bruning’s film that talk about the Philippine gays are still gay bar-specific. Not only does this obsession with the flesh industry give a lopsided idea of what gay culture mainly is about and what it can still be, this choice of imagistic focus is keenly susceptible of imperialistic exploitation. I ended up saying that there are so many other aspects in being gay in the Philippines other than that aspect about prostituted sex, and everybody could only assent. Of course, this obsession is also telling of how precisely homosexual love in the local context has been framed and contained within the notably feudal, native patron/ward structure.

[11] Historian Wayne R. Dynes, arguing against the diversitarian tendency among social constructionists to insist on the fundamental uniqueness of all cultures, invokes the ethnological concept ofKulturkreis or “supraregional cultural entities. (that are composed of) a large complex of societies in which certain cultural constants can be found.” Dynes further remarks that despite the 5,000 distinct human cultures which have been identified in the field, “six categories suffice to classify those in which the sexual configuration is known.” To prove this point, Dynes demonstrates that it is basically the same berdachepattern which may be seen in the ethnographic records of North America, Western Siberia and Madagascar. See Wayne R. Dynes, ‘Wrestling with the Social Boa Constructor,” Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy, ed. Edward Stein (New York: Routledge, 1992), 209-38.

[12] Peter A. Jackson, Male Homosexuality in Thailand: An Interpretation of Ccntemporary Thai Sources (New York: Global Academic Publishers, 1989), 228.

[13] For instance, this book has looked into two recent ethnographies on the Philippines authored by London-based anthropologists and discovered their Orientalizing projects. See: Fennela Cannell, “Catholicism, Spirit Mediums and the Ideal of Beauty in a Bicolano Community, Philippines,” unpublished dissertation in anthropology, London University, 1992; and also Mark Johnson, “Cross-Gender Men and Homosexuality in the Southern Philippines: Ethnicity, political violence and the protocols of engendered sexualities amongst the Muslim Tausug and Sama,” paper presented at the European Conference on Philippine Studies in London, 13-15 April 1994.

[14] Frederick Whitam, “Philippines,” Encyclopedia of Homosexualty, ed. Wayne R. Dynes (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 980.

[15] Rev. Eddie Karnes, Tears in the Morning (Philippine Publishing Company, 1979).

[16] Joseph M. Carrier, “Gay Liberation and Coming Out in Mexico,” Likosky, 482- 98.

[17] Stephen 0. Murray and Manuel C. Arboleda, “Stigma Transformation and Relexification: ‘Gay’ in Latin America,” Likosky, 412-18.

[18] Dennis Altman, “Liberation: Toward the Polymorphous Whole,” Likosky, 123- 52.

[19] This may no longer be true in certain parts of the West. Queerness has emerged as a signal for the return of the revolutionary perspective on sexual (no longer just gay) liberation. Queer signifies the polyvalencies of desire which do not fall within the normative homo/hetero dualism, and it arose in the 1990s because of the stigmatizing effect of using “gay” as a self-identificational sign for young queers and because of the increasing visibility of bisexuals within the Gay and Lesbian Movement. It signalizes new identifications across race and gender primarily on the grounds of non-normative and dissonant sexuality and gender. See Simon Watney, “Queer epistemology: activism, ‘outing,’ and the politics of sexual identities,”Critical Quarterly 36, no. 1 (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, Spring 1994): 13-27.

[20] Barry D. Adam, The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987), 6.

[21] Margarita Co-Singco Holmes, A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines (Manila: 
Anvil Publishing, 1993).

[22] Doctors from the Medical City hospital in Manila have been quietly performing sex change surgeries since the early eighties. One of the first pre-operative transsexuals to undergo sex change in this hospital was Vinna—formerly Cavino—Santiago-Robinson who bravely faced the media in the early nineties (after the collapse of her six-year marriage to a British man), supposedly in order to enlighten the general public on the complex nature of the transsexual surgery. See Joanna U. Nicolas, “Sex Change,” Moneysaver: the Discount Card Magazine 3, no. 12 (December 1994): 7-9.

[23] Whitam, 982.

[24] Lorna Barile, “Pagsanjan and Puerto Calera Revisited,” National Midweek (15 January 1992): 12-15.

[25] Eric Catipon, “Cruising,” Sunday Times Life Magazine (21 February 1993): 3-6.

[26] Cora Lucas, “Breaking Free,” Sunday Times Lfe Magazine (27 March 1994): 7.

[27] Doreen Jose, “UP offers course on Gay literature,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (8 June 1994): 1.

[28] Oskar Atadero, ‘Philippine Gays Go Mainstream,” Mr. & Ms (19 July 1994): 16-17.

[29] The clamor for gay rights in the Philippines has apparently been heard by certain magnanimous souls. One such soul is Congressman Reynaldo A. Calalay of Quezon City, who has just filed a bifi providing for a “third sex” sectoral representative in the House of Representatives. See Ceres Doyo, “Encounter: Rep. Reynaldo A. Calalay, A Champion of Gay Rights,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine (24 September 1995): 10-11.

[30] Gerard Ramos, “Going, Going … Gay,” Philippines Free Press(6 August 1994): 26-27.

[31] Venir Turla Cuyco, “No-gay school policy,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (25 July 1995): 9.